Justice Robin Camp tells inquiry he's learned from 'hurtful' comments he made at sex assault trial

Justice Robin Camp told a Canadian Judicial Council inquiry Friday he's "very sorry" for the comments he made to the complainant in a sexual assault trial when he was a provincial court judge in Calgary.

Judge asked complainant why she couldn't just keep knees together to avoid rape

Federal Court Justice Robin Camp arrives with his wife Mariaan, right, and daughter Lauren at a Canadian Judicial Council inquiry in Calgary. (Canadian Press)

Justice Robin Camp told a Canadian Judicial Council inquiry Friday he's "very sorry" for the "hurtful" comments he made to the complainant in a 2014 sexual assault trial when he was a provincial court judge in Calgary.

"My concept of what I did wrong has grown," he testified.

"I'm very sorry that, on reflection and rereading what I said, that I intimidated her, using facetious words."

Camp's testimony came on the fourth day of the inquiry into his handling of the 2014 sexual assault case in which he asked the complainant why she "couldn't just keep [her] knees together."

He told the inquiry's panel of five Superior Court judges and senior lawyers that he now recognizes how the comment came from a "deep-rooted" bias he had, and he regrets ever uttering the "inappropriate" words.

"I wish I hadn't said them," he testified.

Under questioning by lawyer Marjorie Hickey, whose role is to present the case to the panel, Camp admitted he had a prejudice "that all women behave the same way and should resist" but said he has since recognized that bias and has taken steps to rectify it.

"I can't guarantee that I'm not prejudiced in other areas ... I have learned to be constantly vigilant against it," he said.

"I'm a lot better than I was. I'll always be vigilant. Perfect, I'll never be."

Camp has since been elevated to the Federal Court, but now faces the potential of being removed from the bench, pending the outcome of the inquiry.​

Camp apologizes

Camp also apologized to the Canadian judiciary and to his family.

"I've let my family down. I'm sorry for the embarrassment I've caused to my wife and daughter," he told the inquiry.

During testimony on Thursday, a law professor testified that Camp, who was educated in South Africa, didn't know know the history of sexual assault law in Canada and at times made "rude and stupid" comments during the trial, but she believed that he had learned from the experience.

"To my shame," Camp said he didn't recognize his mistakes on his own, and it wasn't until the appeal of his verdict that he began to see how he had erred in his handling of the trial.

That realization was heightened when several lawyers lodged a formal complaint against him, followed by dozens of complaints from individuals and organizations across the country.

"My sense that I'd made mistakes was compounded," Camp told the inquiry.

"I recognized that I'd made a number of vulnerable people miserable. I was very unhappy with myself."

Transcripts show Camp also repeatedly referred to the complainant, mistakenly, as "the accused" during the trial.

At the inquiry Friday, he again mixed up those words when expressing his regret.

He later corrected himself, saying: "The person I most want to apologize to is the complainant."

'This system is not working'

Kim Stanton, legal director with the Women's Legal Education and Action Fund, said the problem with Camp's comments go well beyond the devastating impact they had on the woman in the 2014 trial.

"It's terrible that sexist language was used; it's much more terrible that the public may have a perception that they will go into a courtroom and the judge won't apply the law," she said.

"He showed disdain for the protections that were hard-fought to bring in, in the Criminal Code in the '80s and the '90s, to protect sexual assault complainants when they bring a complaint forward."

At the end of the sexual assault trial, Camp acquitted the accused, Alexander Wagar, but the Alberta Court of Appeal overturned the ruling and ordered a new trial, citing concerns over the judge's understanding of sexual assault laws. 

Stanton said Camp's approach to the case is a "symptom" of a larger problem within the justice system that needs to be addressed, and the inquiry is an opportunity to do so.

"It might be unfortunate for this man to be the one who has to take responsibility for it," she said. "But someone needs to, because this system is not working for sexual assault survivors, and that is a really big problem."

Camp was excused after about four hours of testimony on Friday.

The inquiry is set to resume Monday at 10 a.m. MT.

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With files from Carolyn Dunn, Jennifer Lee and Raffy Boudjikanian